It may not look like it, but Alain Ducasse is leading a war against globalization. “To do our craft is a political act; it’s the will to not be under anyone’s influence, but rather to be an influence,” he says.
The chef, who started out plucking turkeys at a roadside diner on his winter break from high school in southwestern France (“At the end of the season my mother asked me, ‘Do you still want to be a chef?’ I said yes.”), now runs a restaurant empire that spans from Vegas to Tokyo, plus a culinary school and his own publishing house. What’s more global than that.
What he means, really, is the dumbing-down of food, the creeping same-ification that has KFCs in Beijing and Bangalore selling chicken straight outta Louisville.
“It’s the will to not look like your neighbor,” he says. On a FIAF panel recently with three of New York’s original food craftspeople—Niki Russ Freedman of Russ & Daughters, Mark Israel of Doughnut Plant, and Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery—Ducasse was more interested in talking mass revolution than dishing on doughnuts, because to him the two are one and the same. By preserving the traditions of the past or putting a new, personal spin on their genre, artisans like these are singlehandedly fighting off the the industrial food army.
Part of his plan of attack is to write a series of tour guides-slash-food porn collections of his favorite cities. J’Aime Paris and J’Aime Monaco are already out, with Tokyo and London on the way. But of course, the recently released J’aime New York is the one he loves best, in part because NYC is so massive.
“Really, we could do a new book every year—this is just a snapshot of New York in 2012-2013,” he says. His list of essential NYC spots covers the high-low spread, from underground Chinese to haute hot dogs. The collection of all 150 picks will set you back a Benjamin, but we got Ducasse and co-author Alex Vallis to volunteer his top 10 dishes from the book for free right here.